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Primary care training programs need more funding

Recommendations in a new report include restructuring financing to attract physicians and other health care professionals to the specialty.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Feb. 26, 2010

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A report by a federal advisory committee calls for more funding to programs that provide training for primary care physicians and other health care professionals.

It also recommends that Congress expand loan repayment programs for the National Health Service Corps and support patient-centered medical home demonstration projects to evaluate innovative funding strategies.

The report by the Dept. of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Training in Primary Care Medicine and Dentistry was released in January (link).

Shoring up the primary care work force is obvious for several reasons, said committee Chair William Curry, MD, associate dean for primary care and rural health at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham.

"We have an aging population that requires more and more complex care and, for close to 20 years, we've had a decrease in trainees choosing primary care. That's a bad combination," he said.

The advisory committee was created by Congress in 1998 to offer recommendations to the HHS secretary concerning funding for students and residents in family medicine, general internal medicine and general pediatrics; residents in general dentistry and pediatric dentistry; and physician assistants.

Among the report's recommendations:

  • Congress should restore and enhance funding of certain training programs at $235 million for the next fiscal year and ensure that the funds are broadly distributed among the disciplines covered by the programs (primary care physicians, dentists and physician assistants).
  • Congress should expand the National Health Service Corps loan repayment programs with additional programs to address the severe primary care work force shortages.
  • Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should restructure health care financing to attract physicians and other health care professionals to primary care.
  • Congress and CMS should revise funding policies for graduate medical education and other educational programs to foster and support the use of community-based sites for primary care training for physicians, dentists and physician assistants.

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